What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?
If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.
Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Being Acknowledged and Appreciated by One’s Family or Loved Ones
Forms This Might Take:
- Being acknowledged for one’s dedication to one’s children and their growth (volunteerism as school, coaching their teams, driving to practices, fundraising)
- Being acknowledged by family for one’s independence (such as a youth who works, pays for one’s own car, clothing, tuition, etc.) rather than expect family to pay one’s way)
- Being acknowledged for one’s passion and dedication to a goal, despite opposition and setbacks (starting up a new business, trying to break in as an artist or musician, working to keep a homeless shelter or charitable organization afloat through hard times, advocating for a cause)
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): esteem and recognition
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- Living by example (being a good role model, appreciating others for what they do and showing it, offering praise that is deserved)
- Pointing out what one is doing and why as a ‘team decision’ to an unappreciative or upset spouse (such as acknowledging that long hours at work means one isn’t around as much, but it’s paying the mortgage and allows the kids to be on sports teams or follow their passions, which is what the spouse also wants)
- Not getting sucked into petty family drama and instead turning the other cheek or diffusing it as best as one can
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- Strained relationships between family members who are self-absorbed or who struggle with change
- Having to cut out toxic relationships (which could lead to family feuds as members pick sides)
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- Toxic family members who sabotage one’s efforts or try to dismantle one’s self esteem to “keep one in line”
- A financial crisis
- A health crisis in the family
- Competitive family members who are always trying to “one-up” the character
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- Broken family relationships with those who refuse to validate one’s value and contributions (a falling out with one’s parents, refusing to speak to a sibling, cutting an aunt out of one’s life, etc.)
- Damaging relationships unintentionally because of the emotional strain (yelling at the kids, snapping at a partner) because of friction with other family members and situations
Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.
What does your character want more than anything else and what is he willing to do to achieve it?
On the surface, the protagonist’s goal seems to be the most important, but the inner motivation driving your character toward this goal, despite pain, suffering, fear, setbacks, and sacrifice is what really draws readers in.
Understanding the four cornerstones of character arc (Inner Motivation, Outer Motivation, Inner Conflict & Outer Conflict) and how they frame a story is paramount for today’s writers. To help with this, we have integrated our popular Character Motivation Thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers.
Each entry has been enhanced and expanded to provide even more helpful information about your character’s motivation, and is cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. We’ve also included a must-see tutorial on Character Motivation—a crash-course on how unmet needs, when strong enough, will push your character through fire itself if it means they can fill the hole they feel within. Interested in seeing a sampling of our completed character motivation entries? Head on over and register for free!